TO CHEW ON: "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." Ezekiel 34:16
I am in the middle of a fascinating book. Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles by Dr. Steven Stiles is an account of one California church's youth group during the Hippie era.
Stiles, the youth pastor at a small church in Santa Cruz had a heart for youth, the homeless, street people, and the addicted. His passion for street ministry led to the purchase of several old school buses that the youth used for outreach. Under his leadership the youth department grew till it rivaled the size of the main congregation. Not surprisingly, though, the edginess of the ministry led to conflict.
Eventually the senior pastor who was solidly behind Stiles and his evangelistic style was replaced by a man who was much more traditional. He had the ear of the old guard. One day a board meeting changed everything for Stiles and his band of Jesus People. Here's what happened in Stiles' own words:
"As the end game developed, a final squeeze was put on the youth group. A formal demand was made requiring change in the ministry's basic identity. 'Too Christ-centred,' some critics said. Others voiced their opinions as well: 'Too much time doing worship and devotions, and not enough recreation.' 'Too much use of the Bible and not enough use of denominational material.' 'Too much time together.' 'There's a problem with undesirables.'
Having been unable to jettison the flood of young people that were arriving for help and fellowship, the new church board decided to let us know with final clarity that the youth ministry as it then existed was not wanted" - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 90.
I see this story as a cautionary tale. It's easy to give verbal support to reaching the lost. But if your church has ever had a ministry to street people, addicts, and those in recovery, you will know that it is messy and does threaten the status quo.
How do we react when we find derelicts, former or current addicts, and those living in halfway houses sitting next to us in church, sometimes in loud conversation during the service, taking numerous trips outside for smokes, ourselves aware that we have to watch our purses because valuables have been known to go missing?
These things have happened in our church. I can understand the reaction of those California traditionalists trying to take back control. However, it is so against the heart of the Good Shepherd as Ezekiel describes him:
"I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment." Ezekiel 34:16
PRAYER: Dear God, please preserve me from being such a stuffy, self-righteous, self-protective anti-shepherd. I need Your compassionate shepherd-heart for the lost, hurting, bruised and sick. Amen.
MORE: Parking lot sadness
"On the night of the church board's final meeting to decide the fate of the youth ministry, a large group of young people came and waited patiently in the darkness outside. Standing in the parking lot of the church where they had come to know Jesus, they prayed and struggled to understand what was going on.
The decision of the board was finally passed on to those outside, and when the group heard the news that they were not wanted, they stood and wept. Their tears were not of rejection but of loss, for they deeply loved that church" - Steven Stiles, Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles, p. 91.
(At the time of writing this, the Kindle version of this book is free!)